Pakistan exiting MONUSCO as fighting continues in the DRC

399

Twenty years on, with over a hundred thousand Pakistan military personnel having served with the United Nations (UN) mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Pakistan’s deployment is coming to an end.

The imminent withdrawal of the Pakistan contingent comes in the same month – April – as the withdrawal of a PLA (Peoples Liberation Army) engineer deployment, also with 20 years’ service under the belt in the central African country.

April also saw South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, SA National Defence Force (SANDF) Commander-in-Chief, extend the country’s commitment to MONUSCO until year-end when it wraps up operations permanently (and moves the SANDF to the SAMIDRC mission).

Since the first Pakistan deployment in 2003, 31 died in operations in South Kivu, a MONUSCO statement has it.

Paying tribute to the Pakistani contribution, Bintou Keita, Special Representative of UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, and MONUSCO Head, said the sacrifice, professionalism and commitment displayed by the Pakistanis “helped protect millions of people in the DRC”.

Pakistani troops engaged in military operations aimed at protecting civilians and maintaining peace and security in South Kivu. In 2017, together with DRC Armed Forces (Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo), the Pakistani contingent prevented a coalition of armed groups from taking over the city of Uvira. In 2018, they pushed back an offensive by armed groups in the Uvira Hauts Plateaux, keeping more than 120 000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) safe. Over the years, Pakistani peacekeepers have protected millions of IDPs, many of who set up camps around their bases.

Keita told a farewell parade for the Pakistanis that MONUSCO was handing responsibility for the security and physical protection of Congolese civilians to DRC defence and security forces. “According to the MONUSCO disengagement plan, in parallel with Un troop withdrawals, President Felix Tshisekedi’s government will increase its presence in areas the mission is vacating,” Bintou is reported as saying.

Last week, US Ambassador Robert Wood, Alternative Representative for Special Political Affairs, told the United Nations the Great Lakes Region continues to deteriorate. “State support to non-state armed groups is widespread. Non-state actors are growing in influence and have increased access to arms. Civilians are bearing the brunt of the violence, falling victim to bombings, and increasingly, heavy artillery,” Wood said.

M23 rebels, with the full support of the Rwandan government and backed by Rwandan Defence Forces, have further expanded into key areas of the DRC and are poised to take over more at any time, he warned

“M23 has full control over Virunga National Park, a renowned UNESCO World Heritage Site with irreplaceable biodiversity that is a life-sustaining resource for the Congolese people, especially in North Kivu. M23 also threatens Sake and Goma, posing risks to the security of millions of people and regional stability writ large.

“Violence in the DRC has led to one of the largest displacement crises in the world, with 2.5 million displaced in North Kivu alone. More than 25.4 million people require humanitarian assistance.

“Displaced Congolese women and children are exposed to the worst forms of abuse and sexual exploitation. As the Secretary-General’s report states, 113 000 cases of gender-based violence and sexual exploitation were registered in 2023; but the true number is likely far higher. This is simply unacceptable,” Wood stated.

He said the international response to the United Nations’ humanitarian appeal has been weak, at best. Of this year’s $2.58 billion appeal, only $393 million has been funded, approximately 15%.

“Humanitarian funding is not enough,” Wood said. “That is why we repeat our call for armed groups and their supporters to immediately cease hostilities, uphold international humanitarian law and respect human rights, protect civilians, hold their members accountable for human rights abuses, and ensure unhindered humanitarian access to those in need.

“Rwanda’s destabilizing actions in eastern DRC have pushed the region even closer to war. The United States calls on Rwanda to cease its support for M23 and withdraw from DRC territory. Rwanda must halt all attacks against MONUSCO positions and equipment. Such conduct by a major UN peacekeeping contributor is unacceptable.”

Wood said that MONUSCO must be able to carry out its protection of civilians mandate, a task that becomes increasingly daunting as operations cease in South Kivu and the security situation in North Kivu and Ituri remain extremely volatile. “We strongly support the UN’s steps to ensure peacekeeper performance remains at the highest possible standards as the mission withdraws.”

Wood maintained there is no military solution to this crisis. “Which is why we must support the efforts led by regional actors to resume and reinvigorate the Nairobi and Luanda processes, which offer the most viable path toward resolving 30 years of conflict in eastern DRC.”